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say farewell to reassuringly boring industrial SSDs

this is not your Grandfather's industrial SSD market

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - June 13, 2017
say farewell to boringly predictable industrial SSDsThis blog began this morning as an update about - where we are with industrial M.2 NVMe PCIe SSDs - but it grew into something else.

re industrial M.2 NVMe PCIe SSDs etc

One of the new emerging markets for industrial temperature SSDs in 2017 is high performance NVMe PCIe SSDs in the M.2 form factor.

You can judge the newness and size of this market by the fact that when I researched the availability of production products in this category earlier this year I was only able to confirm 2 manufacturers with products:- Foremay and Virtium.

All the other industrial M.2 SSDs I found at that time were good old SATA.

I expressed my surprise about this in a news story in March 2017. The headline if you look it up was - M.2 PCIe SSDs for secure rugged applications?

Now - you may have been less surprised - because (apart from the applications need) you would rightly say that the other side of NVMe PCIe adoption is the availability of suitable industrial grade host resident controllers and server motherboards.

When you have enterprise grade throughput and IOPS aren't you also straying into the kind of power guzzling territory which is anathema to most industrial equipment designs? More power, more heat, less reliability - you know the score...

Well that circle was squared neatly in a news story in April 2017 - which I tagged with this headline - now Cinderella industrial systems with "no-CPU" budgets and light wattage footprints can go to the NVMe speed-dating ball.

The story was that about a new FPGA controller IP for industrial PCIe applications - from IP-Maker who claimed it could deliver enterprise performance while obviating the need for a watts guzzling processor. (Or sometimes any processor at all.)

And... just as interestingly the briefing notes in the news pack described some of the new applications which the new technology will help to make more feasible.

We know from experience that "applications notes" from controller and processor companies are often founded on wishful thinking rather than hard reality. And I expect that - given the imagination of systems designers - we may find that the biggest roles for industrial NVMe PCIe M.2 SSDs may be something entirely different.

The wishful thinking effect is also part of the fuel and inspiration for companies in the storage market research business. If you want numerical guesstimates for SSD shipments (to confirm or inform your own guesses) before you embark on your next SSD project that's a good place to look.

other changes coming

When looking at strands of upcoming change in the industrial SSD market - the embracing of high speed products is just one dimension. Other degrees of freedom I expect to report more about in news stories include:-
  • the use of much larger memories in IoT leveraging architecture and IP from phones and the cloud.

    This has been a long time in coming. And isn't here yet.

    I included this as a prediction for 2016. And 2 quarters later Marvell's FLC technology looked like an early match in that development stream. That was 1 of only 4 path lighting SSD technologies which I picked for a special mention at the end of 2016 which I had encountered across all SSD application markets - not just industrial.

    Don't expect too much too soon in tiered industrial memory, however. Even the better funded tiered memory market for the enterprise has been slower to ship products than expected due to a proliferation of competing solutions arising from the SCM DIMM wars market pulling in different directions and centered around multiple memory types.

    Some of the contenders in the enterprise nvm market may not even be suitable for industrial temperature operation yet (for example Micron's 3DX) whereas other nvms with high temperature remanence and possibly even good radiation resistance (such as Everspin's MRAM) haven't got the density (Gb per chip) to provide a complete solution and need to be supplemented by a tier of flash.
  • discarding the conventional industrial market wisdom and exclusive reliance on the "solo SSD".

    Industrial SSDs have traditionally been used as solo devices. This saves space and power but places great dependence on the reliability of each single SSDs. And you know what that does to the price.

    The enterprise learned decades ago that incorporating array concepts for self repair and reliability enables systems reliability to be created from architecture and management and doesn't depend critically on the reliability - or cost - of any single drive.

    But hey - they've got big racks and big power supplies and engineers (or robots) who hang around day 24x7 sipping coffee (or electricity) itching to plug in new upgrades and replace faulty modules.

    That's in contrast to the typical industrial market when space and budgets are tight.

    For the industrial market I think the array direction is a story which will unfold and change the industry during the next 10 years.

    It's easier to see how this would work at the high wattage and high data processed value end:- simply as the evolution of the mobile datacenter.

    But at the low wattage end - in cars and IoT feeds - it will require the integration of processors and persistent memory at the SoC level and entirely new product architectures.

    It may be that the array level industrial SSD will always have to be a custom device rather than a standard COTS product - because weighting the internal design factors in software repairable industrial drive arrays will be very applications dependent and a slippery moving target compared to the stark simplicity that if everything depends on a single solo industrial SSD then it had better be good.
One thing I can say for sure about the future of the industrial SSD market is that the industrial rugged world is everywhere - and as the world moves to being able to value data wherever it may originate or be needed - and as new memory technologies evolve and get proven from the high stakes enterprise casinos - we're going to see big revolutions coming in the traditionally staid and conservative industrial data systems market.

This will not be your grandfather's industrial SSD market.

And with SSDs everywhere it's likely that its importance in financial terms will grow too.
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"In the late 90s everyone was trying to figure out how to shift commerce over to the Internet. .. That became the dot-com bubble... Today everybody is chasing the Internet of Things."
Tom Starnes and Jim Handy, Objective Analysis - in 2015 reflections and 2016 outlook (pdf) (January 2016)
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Planar SLC flash may one day acquire the same romantic mythical status in the SSD market that tournaments did in the early days of gunpowder.
Old data warriors drinking their murky brews on days which blur into each other unpunctuated by the wake up calls of work related deadlines will say to one another...

Dost thou remember those days when we used to dress up in shiny armor and charge wildly at each other on horseback while aiming our pointy lances?

rugged SLC like a legendary blend of Don Quixote and Geronimo has staunchly defied many siren calls to surrender (June 28, 2017 )

"The Internet used to be a one-way flow of information. Systems were only required to enable websites to provide information feed to the consumer. Today, with more and more user-generated content and uploads online, storage methods have also become increasingly complicated."
Kevin Wang, VP Sales - Longsys in a press release - increased memory needs in the IoT and IoV era (June 5, 2017)

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"We are at a junction point where we have to evolve the architecture of the last 20-30 years. We can't design for a workload so huge and diverse. It's not clear what part of it runs on any one machine. How do you know what to optimize? Past benchmarks are completely irrelevant.
Kushagra Vaid, Distinguished Engineer, Azure Infrastructure - quoted in a blog by Rambus - Designing new memory tiers for the data center (February 21, 2017)

the dividing line between storage and memory is more fluid than ever before
where are we heading with memory intensive systems?

"At this point we cant cite any decided-upon designs that will definitely feature NVMe SSDs. However, we can say many of the Virtium customers we have spoken with about this concept agree that its no longer a matter of if, but when, NVMe supplants AHCI as the SSD interface in certain industrial-embedded designs."
Virtium (July 16, 2017) in reply to the question - "Can you tell me about any new industrial equipment or application roles in which the availability of NVMe PCIe SSDs was the deciding factor for their customer and for the feasibility of the project?" - which was prompted by their blog - NVMe: Taking a Seat at the Industrial-Embedded Table.

what do today's prototype kits tell us about IoT's future?
Editor:- May 9, 2016 - Companies in the industrial SSD market have been saying in recent years that IoT is a market which could provide a business boost for size and power constrained storage technologies. But when new systems go to market their design origins can be almost unrecognizable.

An interesting preview of raw technology ingredients in the future mix is - 10 DIY Development Boards for IoT Prototyping written by Janakiram MSV, Founder Janakiram & Associates - published in the New Stack.

Janakiram's blog includes prices and capabilities for a range of prototyping boards.

It was also interesting for me to see the breadth of Janakiram's other blogs about changes in computing based around the convergence of cloud, big data architecture and IoT. the article

after AFAs - what's next?
Throughout the history of the data storage market we've always expected the capacity of enterprise user memory systems to be much smaller than the capacity of all the other attached storage in the same data processing environment.
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A thought provoking blog - cloud adapted memory systems - asks (among other things) will this always be true? the article

You don't have to look at many different SSD company web sites before you start asking yourself (as you see similar looking offerings:- consumer, industrial, enterprise, military, 2.5", mSATA, M.2, PCIe, USB yawn etc) how do these companies differentiate themselves and make money?
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recently in the SSD news archives
August 2017 New SSD controller company Burlywood emerged from stealth promising support for multi-sourced 3D TLC/QLC flash .
July 2017 Viking shipped 50TB planar MLC 3.5" SAS SSDs.
June 2017 Toshiba began sampling the world's first 64 layer QLC (x4) nand flash memory. The 768Gb chips were the highest density nvms available.
May 2017 Micron enters the rackmount SSD market.

Everspin's MRAM exits emerging status.
April 2017 IP-Maker released NVMe FPGA IP to enable use of enterprise performance SSDs in low wattage "no CPU" embedded systems.

Rambus said it was working with Microsoft on the design of prototype super cooled DRAM systems to explore avenues of improvement in latency and density due to physics effects below -180 C.
March 2017 Excelero - emerged from stealth.

Everspin began sampling an NVMe PCIe SSD based on its ST-MRAM.

Intel began sampling an NVMe PCIe SSD based on Micron's 3DXpoint memory.
February 2017 Tachyum emerged from stealth mode
January 2017 Pure Storage said the "new stack" is becoming the standard thing.

Crossbar announced it was sampling 8Mb ReRAM based on 40nm CMOS friendly technology.